by Dustin Long
Have you noticed the oddity already taking place in NASCAR this season?
Don’t see it?
Look at the Nationwide Series where all three races have been won by drivers not competing full time in Cup this year.
James Buescher won at Daytona, points leader Elliott Sadler at Phoenix and defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Las Vegas last weekend.
Consider that only six of 34 Nationwide races last year were won by drivers not competing in Cup full time. In 2010, only one race was won by a Nationwide regular not competing in Cup.
The odds are likely that the current streak will end this weekend at Bristol. Kyle Busch has won the last three Nationwide races there and is entered, along with Cup drivers Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano.
Still, a tide is turning.
Sadler, who did not win a race but finished second in the points in 2011, is excited about his chances of winning multiple races this year.
“I feel like when we show up every week, we’re going to be very, very fast,” he said. “We’re going to haul butt at Bristol. They’re taking my favorite car. It’s neat to have this confidence in this race and it’s neat this race team has this confidence in me.”
Others can relate.
The first three races show what the Nationwide Series can become a way to showcase its drivers, particularly the younger ones. Buescher is 21, Stenhouse is 24.
It’s not just them having success.
Look at what 20-year-old Cole Whitt and 21-year-old Austin Dillon have done so far.
Whitt was fourth at Daytona, 13th at Phoenix and sixth at Las Vegas. Dillon was fifth at Daytona, fourth at Phoenix and seventh at Las Vegas. They’re the favorites for the rookie of the year title and, based on how they started the season, could make that an interesting race.
It’s already been quite a start to the season for Whitt, who might be better known as the driver who bumped teammate Danica Patrick at Daytona, causing her to wreck. He hit the wall during qualifying at Las Vegas, but the team repaired it instead of going to a backup.
“I didn’t want to start that way with Danica,” Whitt said. “I messed up. Hopefully, over time I can earn that respect back from them. That, obviously, put a lot of limelight on us, a lot more than I wanted. Obviously, I felt a little bit of the pressure. Hopefully, with a clean race (at Las Vegas) and run as good as we did, we keep pulling those off and earn the respect of the veterans.”
The challenge for the series, though, remains, finding a way to make it affordable for teams to provide younger drivers quality rides. That’s not easy in this economic climate, but that’s what it will take for the series to gain more attention and interest from fans.
HOLD ON TIGHT Jeff Gordon was asked what it was like inside his car when it went upside down during his crash in Daytona. Gordon gave a detailed answer that I thought might give you a sense of what drivers experience in such a crash.
Here’s an edited version of what Gordon said:
“You hold on tight and you just hope that it ends soon. You hold onto the steering wheel, but you basically just brace yourself for any impact that may be coming. The one thing about when you are flipping upside down, you really don’t know what’s coming next because you can’t see. You’re spinning around and you’re seeing the sky and the track and the sky and the track and it’s all happening pretty fast.
“There are only a few split seconds through that whole experience where I was nervous. One was when I was sliding on the door. I was more concerned with if those sparks turn into fire and I need to get out, how am I going to go through the other window? I knew some cars had gotten into me and I thought the car might be stuck like that. That didn’t last for very long because I started flipping. Then I was like, ‘Please don’t land upside down.’ Then it landed upside down.
“When it landed upside down, everything was fine. I told the team I was fine, but now it’s like how am I going to get out? The longest part of that entire wreck was waiting for (rescue crews) to get to the window and going through the process of whether or not we should flip it over or not. That seemed like it took forever and I wish I would have waited longer because I wanted to get out in a hurry and they wanted to wait and flip the car over.
“I wish I had waited because I tried to get out and that was the only time I was scared. I was stuck inside the car when I tried to unhook. That was the part that wasn’t much fun. As far as coping with it, maybe it’s just the mentality you have to have to be a race car driver. I was ready to get back in the car as fast as I possibly could and go out there and go race.”
WHAT’S IN A NAME Kevin Harvick and his wife DeLana have a name for their son due this July, they’re just not telling. Instead, they’re calling the child, for now, Otis.
“It is just something silly that we came up with as we have gone through the few months,” Harvick said. “That has been the most common question as to what we are going to name the boy. We don’t really want to tell anybody until it’s time so we just came up with a code name and that is what we came up with.
“It’s really (Ryan Newman’s wife) Krissie Newman’s fault to tell you the truth. She calls me that every once in a while, so we just called it ‘Baby ‘Otis’. At least it has some kind of name; you can refer to it as something. I keep wanting to call it ‘it’ and DeLana gets mad at me. She’s like ‘you can call it ‘son or boy’? So we just came up with ‘Otis’.”
PIT STOPS Trevor Bayne’s ninth-place finish last weekend at Las Vegas was his best finish in Cup since winning last year’s Daytona 500 ... The car Juan Pablo Montoya crashed into a jet dryer at Daytona now resides on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s property among a collection of destroyed race cars.